As of March 2021, 18 million adults in the United States didn’t have enough food for the week, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The pandemic has been a trying time for all, but those hardest hit by food insecurity have been Black and Latino adults, as well as children.
While food is high on the priority list for many low-income households, it doesn’t always hold the same weight as other expenditures, like housing and transportation. Food budgets can be adjusted. They can also be miscalculated, leaving families hungry for a few days each month.
For many Americans, simply buying enough food to feed their entire family is a challenge on its own. Choosing healthy food, due to access and cost, isn’t always an option.
What happens if, instead of giving money for food, we financially back the organizations that are implementing healthier food programs? What if we focus on building more sustainable practices that address the specific barriers preventing Americans from becoming food secure? What if we recognize food as a significant contributor to health and wellbeing?
Solidify food as medicine
Many studies have revealed that healthy eating practices, along with maintaining a healthy weight and practicing regular physical activity, could help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.
Unfortunately, socioeconomic factors prevent many Americans from getting access to healthy foods. Some communities have far more fast-food restaurants than grocery stores and markets. Some Americans would rather buy foods with longer shelf lives, even if their nutritional value isn’t as high, because it’s more cost-effective.
Investing in fresh fruits and vegetables that expire quickly in the hopes of living a longer, healthier life in the future isn’t exactly a selling point to those who are just trying to get through the week, keep their children fed and clothed, and pay their bills.
In order to support food-insecure families, it’s up to the local community organizations, payers, healthcare providers, government agencies, and other stakeholders to ensure that healthy food options are made easily available.
Systems are hard to change and it’s the same with habits. Until money is used to provide individuals with the right resources and the right access to quality foods, food insecurity will continue to be a problem–and chronic health conditions will continue to cost us.
Target the behavior
For some, the need for food, in general, is far greater than the need to buy fresh produce. This problem can be solved, though.
A recent study in Nutrition, Obesity, and Exercise on fruit and vegetable intake among urban adults living in San Francisco and Los Angeles found that food vouchers could produce healthier eating habits among lower-income households.
As part of the study, 671 adults received fruit and vegetable vouchers every month for six months straight, which were accepted at more than 34 vendors. Of the adults included, 67.1% were female, 30.9% were Black, and 19.7% were Hispanic, and the median income was $1,000 for San Francisco residents and $916.67 for Los Angeles residents.
The findings showed that lower-income adults received the most benefits, not surprisingly. Not only did these individuals buy more produce, but they increased their overall dietary intake. The study also suggested that a flat benefit rate voucher could be more beneficial than a rate that scales to income, suggesting that all individuals, regardless of income, should receive the same amount.
Listen to local leaders
We all know the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on households across the country, with food insecurity being one of the greatest concerns.
Community advocates, programs, and organizations know this. For decades, they have been advocating for policy changes, building networks of volunteers, educating individuals on nutrition, and delivering groceries and meals to those in greatest need. And when the pandemic hit, these local leaders recognized the urgent need to adjust their systems to prevent inequities from widening even further.
Our partner Area Agency on Aging for West Central Ohio, for instance, is tackling food insecurity by establishing a Senior Farmer's Market Nutrition Program (SNFMP). Until November 2021, they're giving $50 vouchers to seniors ages 60 or older who are at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Line.
To say food insecurity is solved by money is to diminish the work that’s being done on the ground, day in and day out, to ensure that individuals are not just getting food, but are getting the best nutritional foods available to support their overall health.
When we invest in community gardens, we invest in sustainable food practices. When we host food drives, we provide families with nutritious meals. When we teach individuals how to value–and cook–healthy food, we offer them lessons in disease prevention.
Hunger isn’t a problem that can be solved overnight, but when money is given to the right organizations and spent on the right practices, it can make a life-changing impact.
Build stronger relationships
At Healthify, we work with numerous payers, providers, and CBOs to ensure that food needs are being met in local communities.
Our mission is and has always been community-driven. We build referral networks that support social services in order to build more mutually beneficial relationships in local communities with the goal of achieving better individual health outcomes.
If you want to learn more about our network and community partnerships, read about our solutions here.